Megan Barker's courageous new adaptation of
The heavy symbolism is a perfect counterpoint to the subtle weaving of lies and quiet deals happening on the stage so that boldness and secrecy manage to occupy the same space.
Barker's interpretation is highly theatrical: stark visual metaphors dominate its construction and pin down the universal nature of the play, and her language is rich and versatile. She includes eloquent, poetic soliloquies and gripping naturalistic dialogue in a way that draws out the strengths of both. Her plot is also significantly more complex than Ibsen’s. There always seems to be another layer to unpack.
In the first act, all this works brilliantly. The heavy symbolism is a perfect counterpoint to the subtle weaving of lies and quiet deals happening on the stage so that boldness and secrecy manage to occupy the same space. Dark hints of the kind of corruption we are dealing with mount up until we reach a state of horrified certainty, aware all the time of how realistic this story is - recent revelations in the real-world press have ensured that. The full story is gradually revealed through a series of beautifully structured revelations, with the past gradually bleeding into the present.
However, by the second act, this desire to reveal the whole complex backstory is realised only at the expense of the story in the present. Act two is surprisingly low on plot, and character development is also minimal. The extraordinary first act brings its characters to breaking point, and then the second act isn't really sure what to do with them. Alison Peebles' Helen Alving is perfectly poised between competence and vulnerability in act one, but seems to have nowhere to go in the second act. Similarly, John Hogg's terrifyingly brittle Oswald doesn't receive the character development he deserves.
Despite this slight disappointment, however, this play is an incredibly accomplished re-imagining of Ibsen's classic. This dramatic interpretation perhaps reaches closer to the spirit of the original than a straightforward restaging could hope to do.